This has been a difficult week for the Clarkdale Bulldogs and it has nothing to do with a trip to undefeated Richton on Friday.
After former Bulldog quarterback Micah Redmond was killed in a car accident Saturday morning, the Clarkdale team has been riding an emotional roller coaster this week.
“We missed a day of practice (Tuesday),” Clarkdale coach Chris Richmond said. “But I felt like we needed to be there for our captain.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but I’ve been really surprised with our young men. We came in Sunday and talked about it and mourned. Forty-five minutes to an hour later, we turned the film on and went over our game from last week.
“Monday we went back to work and our focus was pretty good. (Wednesday), we had some really good parts but you could still see some effects.”
With the lack of practice Tuesday for Redmond’s funeral, the Bulldogs will have a practice today instead of a walk-through as they prepare for the 4-0 Rebels. Clarkdale defeated Richton 20-7 a year ago, but the Rebels won just three games last season.
Richton’s turnaround has been sparked by quarterback Jacob Finley, who transferred in. The junior has thrown for 536 yards and four touchdowns, while completing 36 of 66 passes. He has also rushed for 202 yards and four touchdowns.
“Their coach has done a great job with those guys,” Richmond said. “But the difference between them this year and last year has been the quarterback. He’s been very impressive. He can throw it and run and has made a major difference.
“We’re going to have to play ball control and not turn it over. We can’t try and get in a shootout with them.”
— Jamie Wachter
Calvary facing big test in Calhoun
Calvary Christian did not have a lot in terms of numbers last week against North Sunflower Academy, but the Cougars were able to stand strong and pull out a 48-28 win to move to 2-2 (1-0) on the season.
This week, the Cougars will have an even tougher test, as head coach Kirby Newell and Calvary Christian will travel to play a Calhoun Academy fresh off its 45-6 win against Kemper Academy.
“They are one heck of a football team,” Newell said of Calhoun. “They are big, strong, can dominate the line of scrimmage, and they do it well. They are going to run it down our throats, and we expect it. They got two great backs that complement each other.”
Those two backs come in the form of running back Danny Joe Norman and fullback Kyle Carter. During last year's game against Calvary Christian, Norman rushed the ball 40 times for nearly 400 yards against the Cougars. Carter has shown that he is no slouch either, as the fullback tallied four touchdowns during last week's game against Kemper Academy.
“What we are going to try to do is take Danny Joe (Norman) out of the game,” Newell said. “That means we can't let him get outside. We are going to have eight guys playing run. We may get burned on the play-action sometimes, but I told our guys that we got to stop the run.”
On offense Newell experimented with his offense line last week, taking out some of his bigger players and replacing them with a faster unit. The plan was to allow the Cougars to get the ball outside and provide more time for quarterback Jeremy McFadden to throw the ball.
“It worked great,” Newell said. “We were able to move the pocket around, and Jeremy (McFadden) was able to visualize the field so much better. He had so much more time to throw the ball, and the kid can throw the ball when he has time.”
— Tony Tsoukalas
Northeast bracing for Philly challenge
On the backend of its two straight trips to Neshoba County, Northeast Lauderdale is well aware of the task at hand: dealing with the always talented Philadelphia Tornadoes.
“They always have athletes,” Northeast coach Curt Blackburn said about the perennial Class 3A powerhouse Tornadoes, who have won 32 straight regular season games.
“I’m not sure if it’s in the water or what, but if it is, we need to get some of that over here.”
One thing the Trojans, who fell to 2-2 with an 18-14 setback against Neshoba Central last week, can’t continue to do is turn the ball over. In Northeast’s two setbacks — against MAIS power Jackson Academy and the Rockets — turnovers have been backbreakers. Last week, an early turnover gave Neshoba a short field, a score and momentum.
“We have to do a better job of taking care of the football,” Blackburn said. “We can’t continue to turn it over, especially against teams as good as this.”
Even if Northeast does take care of the football, it still has to try and stop the 4-0 Tornadoes. Philadelphia has rushed for 934 yards, led by quarterback Romon Gray’s 253. Jacardius Griffin has added 228 yards and Kaleb Moore has churned out 195 more.
To add to that powerful rushing attack, the Tornadoes finally opened up the aerial assault last week against Leake County. After completing only 4 of 15 throws through the first three weeks, Gray went 6 of 9 for 98 yards and three touchdowns against the Gators.
“That’s always tough because it gives you something else to worry about,” Blackburn said. “But with Philadelphia, your main concern always has to be slowing the run. That is what they really like to do.”
— Jamie Wachter
Southeast battling tough schedule
It doesn’t get any easier this week for Southeast Lauderdale.
After already battling rivals Newton County, Northeast Lauderdale and West Lauderdale, the Tigers now have to visit perennial Class 2A power Lumberton on Friday before facing Quitman next week.
“It’s not an ideal schedule and it’s pretty tough,” Southeast coach Charles Black. “We’ve just got to focus on getting better.
“We’ve got a good group of young kids and sometimes you do worry about them getting down, but they’re working hard and while it’s important for us to try and pull out a win, it’s more important that we play well and keep getting better.”
One area where the Tigers, who are now 1-3, need to improve is not allowing the big play. West Lauderdale utilized big play after big play last week to defeat Southeast, and according to Black, most came on defensive breakdowns.
“Not to take anything away from West Lauderdale, but our own mistakes were our downfall,” Black said. “Defensively, I’m proud of how physical we played. But we gave up way too many long plays.”
Southeast hit some big plays of its own, but again miscues hurt the Tigers on offense as well.
“After going back and looking, we had a couple of running plays where the fullback misses the kick block,” Black said. “And it’s not easy because West was bringing the house on nearly every play, but if we make those blocks, we have some more big runs.”
The Tigers may need those additional big plays this week against the 2-1 Panthers.
“They are a very athletic team as always,” Black said. “We have to go down and play physical and try to match them step for step.”
— Jamie Wachter
Russell looks to roll past NSA
The wheels are turing, the engine's revved and Russell Christian Academy's machine-like defense is running full steam ahead.
The 4-0 Warriors have not allowed a point in their past two games and will face an 0-4 North Sunflower team that has struggled mightily this season.
“They are big,” Russell Christian head coach Nate Ballard said. “They just don't have the same speed they had last year.”
This year's North Sunflower team is a far drop from the 2011 team that finished 8-2 (7-0) last season. That team handed the Warriors their first loss last year.
“We definitely want to beat the teams that beat us last year,” Ballard said. “It's not really like a revenge game that we have circled and are waiting to play. Our goal is to win district and go on to win the state championship game, so they are the next district game we got. That's how we approached it, in order to accomplish those two goals, we have to beat them.”
In order to beat North Sunflower, Russell Christian might need to break out of its typical run-first offense and switch to more of a passing attack, as Calvary Christian tore apart the North Sunflower secondary last week.
“We have kind of put a little more passing plays into our game this week,” Ballard said. “We are definitely going to try to attack the edge, because that is where they are weak.”
The Warriors appear to have made huge strides from last season's 6-5 mark. However count Ballard as one not shocked on his team's dominance.
“I'm not surprised,” Ballard said. “Since last October, this has been on our mind. We wanted to come out like this. This is the reason we did all the summer workouts and all the running, box jumping, weight lifting, was to prepare to have this success. I know that if we execute, we can beat any team in 8-man.”
— Tony Tsoukalas
West looks to slow down Morton
Stan McCain had a simple message to his West Lauderdale Knights last Friday — enjoy the win and let’s do it again.
If the Knights are going to heed that message following their first win of the season, they will need to limit the big plays of visiting Morton.
“I haven’t been able to tell much of a difference in them this week in practice, but that’s a good thing,” McCain said about how the Knights have handled their lopsided win against Southeast Lauderdale. “It was definitely some relief on everybody’s part. I told them to enjoy it over the weekend and come back ready to work and let’s see if we can’t get another one.”
The 1-2 Panthers enter with a strong offense that is churning out 348 yards of offense a game led by quarterback Jymier Slocum, who has thrown for 743 yards and eight touchdowns. Devonta Jones and Michael Polk are each averaging better than 30 yards per reception with Polk also rushing for 74.3 yards per game.
“They are a big play waiting to happen,” McCain said. “I think we have a good plan going into it, it’s just a matter of can we sustain it.
“They have good skill people and a good quarterback that can throw it and run it.”
Big plays were a big part of West’s success last week against county rival Southeast. And while McCain was thankful for those, he was a little disappointed the Knights didn’t have more success running the football.
“We finally found some big plays and executed the big plays,” he said. “But we weren’t able to run it inside as well as we like to and we couldn’t sustain much.
“But sometimes it’s hard when you are outnumbered in the box.”
— Jamie Wachter